Everything You Need to Know About the CSS Financial Aid Profile

Carnegie Mellon University accepts the CSS financial aid profile

Flickr user Games for Change


  • The CSS Financial Aid Profile is an online financial aid form administered by the College Board
  • Many private colleges use this form to award institutional aid to eligible students
  • The CSS Profile is not an alternative or a substitute for the FAFSA – it is a completely different application

The CSS Financial Profile is an online financial aid form established by the College Board, the same organization that also administers the SAT. CSS stands for College Scholarship Service. Around 260 colleges in the US use this online application to determine students’ eligibility for non-federal financial aid.

The CSS application is not an alternative to or a substitute for the FAFSA. The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is administered by the federal government. If a college requires students to submit the CSS, this is in addition to submitting the FAFSA. The two applications are used for different purposes. The FAFSA is used to calculate the amount of federal aid you are eligible for while the CSS is used to calculate your eligibility for institutional aid.

The CSS Financial Profile is as important as the FAFSA and can award money to those who are interested in attending a private college.

Here’s everything you need to know about the CSS Financial Aid Profile.

Understanding the CSS Financial Aid Profile & how colleges use it

The main difference between the FAFSA and the CSS Profile is that the FAFSA is required for awarding any type of federal aid as well as for financial aid from most colleges and states. The CSS Profile is used only for awarding non-federal, institutional financial aid to qualifying students.

You do not need to submit your CSS Profile to all colleges that you apply to. You only need to submit it if you are applying to a college that requires this application. About 260 colleges accept the CSS Profile to calculate their financial aid packages. Most of these are private schools.

There is not a fixed formula for calculating how much financial aid you will get through the CSS Profile. Every college uses a different formula for calculating your need. You may qualify for a merit scholarship and generous need-based aid at one school, while at another school you may only qualify for a merit scholarship.

The CSS Profile application process

The application process starts with creating your CollegeBoard account. If you’ve already created a profile for the SAT, PSAT, or any other College Board exam, you may use that same profile to sign up for a CSS Profile.

Filling out your CSS Profile can be a time-consuming process as you need to submit a lot of personal and financial information. However, the information is saved automatically. If you need to log out and continue the application process later, you can pick up right where you left off. Just keep in mind though that some information may not be changed once it has been completed. Pay attention when you begin the application process.

 

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Information you have to provide on your CSS Profile

The CSS Profile application collects more information than the FAFSA. This is because they are looking for a more complete picture of your family’s financial situation to put together a fair package for you. While filling in all the details can be tedious and time-consuming, the benefits are generally worth it.

In addition to some of the more basic information such as your name, date of birth, Social Security number, residential address, email address, and phone number, you will have to provide these details:

  • Your personal income, assets, and expenses
  • Your parents’ income, assets, and expenses
  • Number of family members and dependents
  • Previous year’s federal income tax return
  • Up-to-date bank statement(s)
  • Latest statement for savings and investment accounts
  • Current and previous year’s earned income and untaxed income
  • Current and previous year’s records of SSI (Supplemental Security Income) and benefits such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
  • Current mortgage details

To help make it easier when you are ready to complete your CSS Financial profile, keep these documents handy as they contain all of the information you need:

  • Current bank statements
  • Previous year’s federal tax returns
  • Records of untaxed income for the previous financial year
  • W-2 forms and any other records of income for the previous financial year
  • Mortgage statements if applicable
  • Small business information if applicable

If you have documentation related to stocks, bonds, or trusts, keep those details handy too. All income-related information should be correct on the day of filing your CSS Profile.

There is also a section for information regarding special circumstances. Here you can provide details that you were unable to state through other parts of the application. Special circumstances you can include in this section include a parent getting laid off, recent separation or divorce, disability or death, or excessively high medical expenses.

How much does it cost to submit the CSS Profile?

The CSS Profile is free for undergrad students whose family income is below $100,000. Students who don’t meet the income criterion have to pay $25 to submit the completed form to one school and $16 for every additional school after the first. If you previously qualified for an SAT fee waiver, you will automatically qualify for a CSS Profile fee waiver and won’t have to pay to send your application to any school.

These are the eligibility requirements for a CSS Profile fee waiver:

  • Your family-adjusted gross income is $100,000 or less per year
  • You previously qualified for a SAT fee waiver
  • You are an orphan or ward of the court under 24 years of age

Should you apply for a CSS Profile?

If you have your heart set on a private school, then you should consider applying for a CSS Profile for your financial aid needs. Even independent and international students may apply for a CSS Profile so long as they want to attend college in the US.

Should you fill out the FAFSA as well as the CSS Profile?

Yes, you absolutely should. Every student applying to college should fill out the FAFSA regardless of whether or not they are also filling out the CSS Profile. The CSS Profile is applicable only for institutional aid. That is just one type of aid that you can get. The FAFSA, on the other hand, opens the doors to several other types of financial aid like:

  • Pell Grants
  • Scholarships
  • Work-study
  • Federal student loans.

Federal student loans come with helpful protections such as flexible repayment plans based on your income and forgiveness programs. You do not want to lose access to these benefits by failing to file your FAFSA.

Deadline for submitting the CSS Profile

The CSS Profile opens on October 1 every year for the next academic year. That’s the same day that the FAFSA opens. It is advisable to submit your application as early as possible in the cycle as schools generally allot awards on a first-come-first-served basis.

If for any reason you miss that early window, remember that deadlines for submitting the CSS Profile vary from one college to another. Most schools require applicants to submit their Profile before the general application deadline. That means you must check the application deadline for each school you’re applying to and complete your CSS Profile in time to meet the earliest submission deadline.

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